As a human being, there is no greater compliment than being entrusted with someone’s secret. When someone shares a secret with me, I always feel this sense of honor and responsibility: it’s now my duty to guard the secret! It could be that because I have a big mouth and I talk a lot, people feel compelled to shush me by labeling their news as a secret. I’m okay with that. Secrets are wonderful. Sometimes the content of a secret is pretty amazing, but more than that, secrets are great because they contain privileged information. Even dull news acquires a sparkle when it’s a secret. I love that delicious thrill the moment before someone shares their secret with me. My ears grow a little wider as I hold my breath and lean in closer, the better to hear this important announcement. I’m practically giddy with anticipation! Occasionally the secret lives up to its promise, like the first time an old boyfriend told me he loved me. Now THAT was a good secret. But often, the secret is more mundane or it’s a sad secret, troubling or unhappy. It’s rare that I’m tempted to break my promise and spill a secret that doesn’t belong to me. That’s a tremendous relief. My brain would explode if I filled it up with information that threatened to spill out of my mouth every time I opened it.
Have you ever heard the phrase about money burning a hole in my pocket? Secrets feel like that to me when they involve food or cooking. That’s why I keep depositing my secrets here, every week. I love writing this site, if for no other reason than to have some sort of record of all the cool things I’ve learned and good foods I’ve cooked. Keeping your recipe collection on-line has another perk: when you’re organizing a cooking party, recipes can be shared with just a few clicks. It’s so easy! I also enjoy not harassing my friends with annoying e-mails about all the things I’m putting in my belly. Now they know that if they want to hear about that sort of thing, they can find it right here. I love it.
In the almost two years since I started writing Life, Love, and Food, I’ve started to undergo a transformation. I think I am slowly becoming a cook. Now, I’ve thought of myself as a person who cooks for a while now. I’ve always loved recipes—they’re like little word maps, marking the path to edible nirvana. But lately, I’m not as keen on following recipes. I still love them and use them, but I seem to be cooking more and more straight out of the fridge with no piece of paper serving as the middleman between me and dinner. Some might say this is a very positive step for me—Matt, for example, who tells me his brain is one giant cookbook. (It’s true, and he’s a great cook.) The interesting thing is that I’m accumulating my own little set of kitchen secrets, tricks I’m using these days to fill in the gaps that emerge when I’m cooking without a book. In fact, one of these secrets does find its origins in a book, and I’m sure the other two can be found in print somewhere. But right now, they feel like my secrets, and I’m just burnin’ up here, dying to share them with you.
Broccoli, eggs, garlic: these are rather mundane ingredients. By themselves, they aren’t showstoppers. They are building blocks, ingredients with which we build dinner. Because they are so ubiquitous, the smart cook has a hundred-and-one ways to use them. The frugal cook uses every last bit of her inventory. I want to be smart and frugal—mostly just to make up for all the times I’m dumb and wasteful—so let us start with broccoli, perhaps the least glamorous of the trio. I have been eating a lot of broccoli ever since I discovered how delicious Roasted Broccoli and Tofu is. I think it’s my favorite meal these days. But the dish only calls for broccoli florets, which, unless you only purchase florets, leaves a bunch of gnarly-looking stems for you to frown at. The best use of these gnarly-looking stems is Broccoli Slaw. It’s just shredded broccoli, but it’s really tasty—juicy, a little sweet with that earthy and distinctive broccoli tang. Broccoli Slaw is an excellent side dish and a very nice way to sneak another green vegetable into your diet. It can be tossed with a salad dressing or even other vegetables for a mixed slaw—I like shredded carrots and finely diced radishes.
Yield: Variable (I use 1-2 stalks to make a single serving.)
1 or more broccoli stalks
1) Using a sharp knife, chop off the ends of the broccoli stalks. Then hold the broccoli stalks upright with one hand and use your knife to slice away the rough outside layers. You might trim away a substantial portion of the stalk—that’s okay. The goal is to remove the more fibrous layers and leave the juicy inner stalk behind.
2) Once you have the smooth inner stalk, shred it using coarsely using a box grater. Broccoli stalks are pretty easy to shred—easier than carrots or even cheese, I find. Proceed with your plans for the Broccoli Slaw.
So we’ve got our green vegetable squared away. Now we need to think about protein. When I think about protein, I tend to have four ideas pop up at one time: beans, cheese, nuts, and eggs. All of these foods are excellent choices, and I eat them abundantly. Eggs, however, are my favorite last-minute meal-booster. An egg makes a meal out of leftovers. It’s a lovely option when you are cooking for one because they come in single-serving packages! The easiest egg recipe I’ve found is a recipe from Sunlight Café for baked eggs. When Grey’s Anatomy is calling my name, I crack an egg into my little white ramekin, pop it in the oven, set the timer, and disappear into the world of Seattle Grace Hospital for ten minutes or so. When the timer beeps, I check my egg. Sometimes I’ll add a handful of shredded cheddar, sometimes I just leave it plain and unadorned. I tuck the egg back into the oven for a few minutes and then it’s dinner time. The egg joins the rest of my meal—noodles, salad, or whatever other simple foods will make a nice living room floor picnic—and I eat, tired, happy, and probably crying over Izzie and her brain tumor.
Simple Baked Egg for One
Adapted from Mollie Katzen’s Sunlight Café
Yield: One serving to accompany other dishes for a dinner for one
This recipe is really bare bones. It makes a perfectly fine egg, especially if you don’t overcook it (the white can get a little rubbery if the egg is too well-cooked). I think it would be delicious to add a pat of butter or a small splash of heavy cream to the ramekin before adding the egg. You can also, as I describe above, sprinkle a handful of cheese over the egg at the ten-minute mark.
Nonstick cooking spray
1 large egg
Salt and pepper to taste
1) Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spray an ovenproof ramekin with cooking spray and set on a baking tray. Crack the egg into the ramekin and season with salt and pepper.
2) Bake the egg for about ten to fifteen minutes until the yolk is cooked to your liking. I like my egg cooked in the thirteen to fifteen minute range, although one of these days I’m going to get daring and try it at twelve minutes. You can eat the egg straight from its ramekin or slide it on top of something else, like noodles or a nice piece of toast.
Speaking of toast, that brings me to my final kitchen secret. This one I’m almost certain you’ve heard of before, but it was new to me: the garlic-rubbed toast. My friend Cory told me about this—actually, bragged about it is more like it—when I was telling him about Daphna’s showstopping garlic bread recipe. To my mind, there is nothing in this world that can top D’s garlic bread, so when my friend Josh deviated from the recipe while making garlic bread for our fall equinox dinner, I was a little unnerved. One would think that after cooking with Matt, who doesn’t even use recipes most of the time, I woudn’t mind a little artistic expression from the garlic bread-maker. But that would be untrue. I did manage to bite my tongue because I enjoy Josh’s company and for goodness sake’s, it’s just garlic bread! I explained all of this to Cory, and he shared with me his super-easy, super-tasty trick: take a raw clove of garlic and rub it all over your toasted bread. Voila! Garlic toast. This trick is useful if your meal is already rather rich, and buttery garlic bread would put everyone into a food coma. It’s also a nice trick if you are topping the garlic toasts with something rich or melted, like a smushed Egg and Cheese Muffin. Maybe Cory deserves bragging rights here after all.
It occurs to me now that I have just given you the fixings for almost an entire meal: vegetable, egg, bread. If I had a nice big salad to accompany my broccoli slaw, baked egg, and garlic toast, I’d be one happy home cook. Little fuss, no leftovers, full belly. My mother ought to be very proud of me.
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There’s still time for you to win a copy of Ammie’s awesome cookbook, Clove-Minded: A Valentine Cookbook! Leave a comment about your romantic adventures in the kitchen here, and tomorrow I’ll draw one winner out of the entries. Right now, each contestant has a 33% chance of winning, so the odds are good! (But, as the saying goes, the goods are odd. So it goes around here.)